Current space exploration
The space elevator is an advanced space transportation system that someday could replace chemical rockets as humanity's primary means of reaching Earth's orbit. However, before this can occur, a number of enabling technologies will need to be developed, and a variety of economic and policy questions must be addressed. The goal of this paper is to examine the feasibility of the space elevator in the context of current space exploration policy. The paper reviews the space elevator's critical enabling technologies and presents their wide variety of applications. The challenges of funding the space elevator and of building support for the program are discussed. The potential for international cooperation is considered, and the role of the space elevator in the Vision for Space Exploration is examined. The paper argues that each of the space elevator's component technologies ought to be developed independently to meet separate nearer-term objectives. The space elevator should be just one of many applications considered in making decisions to pursue research and development related to each component technology. The enabling technologies, once mature, might eventually be integrated in the construction of a full-scale space elevator from the Earth's surface to geosynchronous orbit and beyond.